William Byfield’s Secret E-Diary October 2009

16 October 2009: “One of the signs of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” — Bertrand Russell

I have become very concerned about swine flu or Influenza H1NI, to use its proper name. First, I dislike the name: it sounds rather “dirty”. I prefer geographical names, such as Spanish Flu, which have a dash of romance to them. Guadalajara Flu would sound much better in my view. However, this is not my real concern. It is the way in which anyone who succumbs to the illness, or indeed nearly any other politically inconvenient medical emergency, is said to be suffering from “underlying health problems”.

I am quite sure I am suffering from underlying health problems, as you, dear diary, know only too well. You will remember I first detected them when I was 13 and they have tended to accumulate with age. Indeed, I read my annual blood tests with the same trepidation I felt when the “O” and “A” level results postcards popped through the family letter-box. That old wheeze gets worse after cigars. A couple of bottles of decent claret give me a heavy feeling in the right-hand abdominal quadrant, not a million miles away from my long-suffering liver and the waterworks bear an uncanny resemblance to those modern coffee machines where you pop in a sachet of Kenyan Roast and wait whilst the water spurts and dribbles onto the circular disc on which you forgot to place the cup.

From the noises around chambers, I suspect the publicly funded Bar is also suffering from an underlying health problem: malnutrition. A posse of tenants, led by Roderick Twist, he whose very soul is penetrated by the iron fence post on which he sits to gauge the way the wind is blowing, asked me what I thought about an ABS. The conversation had a degree of cross-purpose as the only ABS I could bring to mind was the rather helpful braking system on my car. This was not their concern. It was rather the prospect of Alternative Business Structures that the Bar is considering permitting under its Code.

My heart sank. Each of those words “alternative” “business” and “structure” is in my internal lexicography of loathing. I tried to bluff my way out of it, but multiple shrieking swamped my efforts. David Moncrieff, our rather unpredictable senior junior, asked me if I could afford school fees. I hoped he might have noticed I had rather passed that stage, but then I remembered he had remarried in middle age and had two adolescent sons. “An ABS could be our salvation,” he said. I did not voice my doubts. David has become a touch eccentric over the years and tends to tell his clients at an early stage the all-too obvious deficiencies in their cases. Also, he objects to travelling much further afield than Southwark Crown Court. I understand his dilemma. I have met his extremely attractive young wife. I was, however, not entirely convinced any ABS (structure or brakes) would address his “issues”.

Paddy Corkhill then spoke. I have recorded my ambiguous feelings about dear Paddy in an earlier entry. In some ways I owe him my continuing position as Head of Chambers. On the other hand, his less than ringing endorsement had hurt. I deduced from the rather fruity smell that he had been indulging his principal vice in El Vino’s. In the classic phrase, he smelt of drink, his eyes were glazed and he was unsteady on his feet. However, one of the odd things about Paddy is that, contrary to received medical opinion, drink seems to enhance his faculties rather than dull them. I shall reproduce his Gettysburg address as faithfully as possible.

“The problem, mein comoraden, is this: politicians made a collective decision about 20 years ago, that, since all defendants are guilty, you don’t need to worry about giving them more than a basic run. Now, we all know most of them did it. It would be strange, wouldn’t it, if most of them were innocent.” There was a sinister pause.

“It would mean otherwise,” he emphasised, “that the coppers were going around arresting wholly innocent individuals for the crack.” I took him to mean “for the fun of it” rather than the highly-addictive Class A drug. “But,” he added, in swaying mode, “when I was a young barrister it was a given: better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be convicted. They don’t BELIEVE THAT anymore.” I hoped the shouting would be temporary. “What’s a wrongful 15 years in chokey if we get good headlines in the press? That’s what they say. Unless they’ve been nicked themselves. They think we’re a soft touch for more spending cuts and this time WE ALL NEED TO FIGHT. YOU will be our ... Arthur Scargill!”
I feel some early symptoms of incipient illness.

William Byfield is the pseudonym of a senior member of the Bar. Gutteridge Chambers, and the events that happen there, are entirely fictitious.